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Milwaukee Journal (26/Apr/1991) - Film proves some things are better left alone Hitchcock remake doesn't make it



Film proves some things are better left alone Hitchcock remake doesn't make it

ASKED TO NAME favorites among his own films, Alfred Hitchcock always included "Shadow of a Doubt."

The master's fans also list it for its trenchant look at innocence awakened and its winning performances by Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright and Hume Cronyn, among others.

As a classic example of Hitchcock in his earlier Hollywood days (1943), filmed in black and white, it captured menace intruding on sun-dappled small-town life. Cotten was at his urbane best as itinerant Uncle Charlie, a charmer with malicious intent.

In CBS' remake, at 8 p.m. Sunday, Charlie's sister (Dianne Ladd) and niece (Margaret Welsh) still adore him. So do a series of rich widows, until his hands caress their jeweled necks too firmly.

In the original, Wright couldn't have been better as Charlie's namesake, slowly finding the monster behind her uncle's flashing smiles.

In this "Hallmark Hall of Fame" version, we're given a less-sure newcomer, Welsh, as young Charlie. Mark Harmon perhaps inevitably, considering his soaring popularity tackles the Cotten role.

It is his fourth telefilm already this year, and Harmon deserves a long rest. Maybe he should consider more acting lessons.

The guy is improving, but he had so far to go from the UCLA gridiron. Cotten was Uncle Charlie: debonair, devious and deranged. Harmon keeps struggling not to seem over his head.

His chutzpah at tackling the part isn't this film's greatest, however. Director Karen Arthur has efficiently directed TV series and a few movies. But even with color and film-editing technology not available in 1943, she's no Hitchcock. Where the original resonated with growing tension, this "Shadow" periodically slogs to a near-halt.

Writer John Gay has updated the original Thornton Wilder-Sally Benson script by 10 years, to 1953. He also altered several scenes unaccountably, and unwisely expanded the violent train finale.

Gay is an old-hand at reworking classics. But Madison's own Wilder was a genius, and "Shadow" was the shimmering dark side of his classic, "Our Town".

Producer Norman Rosemont, making his 10th "Hall of Fame," wanted what he called "a more colorful era." Translation: It was easier to find cars and clothes from the 1950s than '40s. Both films were shot in houses in Santa Rosa, Calif., houses, this one a block from the first.

This "Shadow of a Doubt" doesn't belong in Hallmark's hall of shame. But after opening its 40th TV season with the gem "Sarah, Plain and Tall," this time Hallmark didn't care enough to send the very best.